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Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Image Problem: the ADA and Business

In recent weeks I have read quite a few articles about the ADA that can only be deemed harmful. By harmful, I mean they are poorly researched, grossly wrong and anti ADA. The articles in question have appeared in mainstream newspapers and magazines that reach a national audience. I need not identify the articles in question as the larger issue that emerges from them as a collective is straight-forward: the ADA is bad and hurts large and small businesses. While the intent of the law is good, inclusion as a sort of philanthropic generosity, some pesky and cripples are using the ADA to line their own pockets with money via lawsuits. One article I read went as far as to suggest the ADA has done more harm than good. What makes these articles so dangerous is there is an ounce of truth as opposed to a pound of bull shit.

Let me set some facts clear: the ADA was a hopelessly compromised piece of legislation when it was passed into law. The Supreme Court spent more than a decade reducing its effectiveness and hopelessly confusing the general public as to who was and was not disabled. In spite of its profound flaws, the ADA and disability rights leaders have used the law to the best of their ability. But disability rights leaders are far from a united front--indeed I would contend they are hopelessly splintered. Worse yet the ADA has not in any way dramatically changed how Americans perceives disability in general or people with disabilities in particular. Discrimination is as rampant today as it was the day the ADA was passed. What has changed is the sort of discrimination people with disabilities encounter. Today there is a willful ignorance as it relates to disability rights. The average person unfamiliar with disability does not think of disability as being about civil rights and even if this thought crossed their mind there is the hazy knowledge a law was passed a long time ago that solved the problem.

When the ADA was passed hysterical claims about costs involved in making businesses accessible abounded. These fears turned out to be just that--baseless fears. No data past or present indicates the ADA is costly or hurts business large or small. In spite of this fact mainstream media outlets highlight stories that indicate otherwise. These stories abound. Look at any newspaper and one can read about business owner that "fear the ADA". Some businesses and cities "could be devastated" by the law. In short, the ADA is equated with financial ruin. This places the person with a disability willing to file a complaint under the ADA as the bad guy from the start. What is conveniently ignored is the ADA is very clear about what accessibility entails. The law in my experience is often ignored and business owners are content with slapping up a blue wheelchair logo and declaring themselves accessible. This is not reality. Reality is access is good not just for people with disabilities but countless others as well. Compliance is in the best interest of business owners. This line of reasoning never appears in press. In it place newspapers report about people with a disability who file multiple lawsuits in an effort to "shake down business owners." Lawyers of course are also profiting from this attack on business. Are some suits frivolous? Of course. However, every day I go out my door I come across businesses that are not accessible in spite of law. I park in parking lots that have curb cuts located in the wrong place or simply don't exist. I order cold cuts from delis that are in violation of the ADA each and every week. The fact is I could spend the rest of my life suing businesses over flagrant violations of the law. I do not do this because I perceive such an effort to be fruitless. What is needed is not a change in the law but the cultural demand for the law to be enforced. We need outrage, social outrage that all businesses and schools are not accessible. We need all people to demand the country be made accessible. I doubt I will ever see this take place but I can dream--and the ADA is but one measure of protection for my civil rights. It does not matter that the law is flawed for I know the law is on my side. This is not enough for real social change but at least it is a start.

5 comments:

Katja said...

"The average person unfamiliar with disability does think of disability as being about civil rights" - do you mean "does not"?

william Peace said...

Katja, You are correct--does not. Will correct!

Daniel said...

Nice post. people can aware to read such type of post about civil rights.


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MyTruth said...

The "Drive-by ADA Lawsuit" item blows me away... while you are correct about an ounce of validity in a pound of bullshit, did you notice the dateline: FLORIDA? home of mobility-impaired, yet cash-laden, senior citizens? Why why why doesn't the local Chamber of Commerce set up a committee to investigate and facilitate ADA compliance? -seems like a win-win, but sadly with law everything becomes win-lose...

william Peace said...

MyTruth, It never ceases to amaze me how the media reports about the ADA. Never do they discuss the fact the law is 20 years old and that businesses have knowingly been out of compliance for two decades. No, the story is always negative. For instance i have complained about my local GAP for years--the rear entrance is accessible but always filled with trash. Every time I enter I need to move boxes of and boxes of trash. I complain and nothing is ever done. One of these days I will file a complaint.